When I was a shiny new teenage Christian in the late Eighties, Martyn Joseph was one of THE musicians to listen to. Approachable mainstream music, an authentic and earnest believer. One of his best known songs back then was a track called ‘Dolphins Make Me Cry’ but I can’t remember why they did.
A couple of centuries later and a few days ago, Martyn Joseph gigged at Nailsea Folk Club in the fabulous Tithe Barn. I knew that things had changed ; had been aware of his progression over the years to a man with more things on his mind : justice, stories, questions and doubts.
And so the gig became not just a nostalgia trip for the Christian-lite songs of my younger days but an experience of open and profound songwriting which often tackled solemn subjects and yet got the audience singing; explorations of grief, politics and questions of faith with no easy answers or platitudes, more like downright challenges , alongside moments of sheer enjoyment and joy.
For example: “The ashtrays are full and today’s somehow sunk, I’d ask for a sign but the prophets are drunk.The sirens are telling the news of the night, girls waiting for taxis have started to fight. And maybe a genie will quietly appear, whoever it was that brought me here, it’s time to take me home” (Whoever It Was)
And in ‘Not a Good Time for God’ – “Atheists deplore him, hedonists ignore him, men with bombs adore him, agnostics rarely need, think tanks never heed, orthodoxy creeds him..it’s not a good time for God…..close friends double crossed him, the crucifixion cost him, it’s never been a good time for God”
The chorus of this particular song (“singing alle, alle, alle, alle Allah’) means Joseph is not going to get an invite to play at New Wine any time soon but he’s in a different place completely: no Christian choruses here but there never were, more modern day Psalms, protests and stories which are raw,honest and moving – I defy you to listen to ‘Clara’ without getting a little mistyeyed. It’s no wonder Martyn is now respected as a singer/songwriter in the UK by both secular and faith-based audiences and recently did a session with Bob Harris on Radio Two.
Songs for the Coming Home, Martyn’s latest album, is available from http://www.martynjoseph.com